If the term journaling conjures up images of being a teenager and writing in your diary about the cute boy in social studies class, it’s time to see it in a new light.Effective journaling can improve happiness, help you express and realize your fears, allow you to explore your beliefs and values, exercise your imagination and heal emotional wounds.Journaling can change you. People have switched careers because of what they’ve discovered about themselves through journaling. Others have used their writings to achieve inner peace and forgive themselves and others. And many folks have made their journal a place where they can hold themselves accountable while trying to quit smoking, lose weight or stick to an exercise routine.MORE: Did you recently experience a highly traumatic event? Get specific how-to steps on how a journal can help you get through it.When it comes to journaling, there’s good news and better news. The good news is that there are no rules. There isn’t just one way to keep a journal, because there isn’t just one way to live a life. Journals are as individual as the people who keep them.All your journal has to do is meet your needs at the moment you’re writing in it, and your needs will change from time to time. One day you might want to vent your anger. Another day, perhaps tell about a happy event. Or record a conversation you don’t want to forget. Or draft a letter to a friend before you actually send it. The possibilities are endless.RELATED RESEARCH: Journal Entries Predict LongevityThe better news is that you can change your mind at any time about what you write and how you write it. Journaling is a totally autonomous activity. You are completely in charge. It’s fine to forget any notions of grammar, spelling, structure or neatness. Journaling should be organic, liberating and fun!How to get started:● Choose a journal that won’t intimidate you or block your thoughts. If one of those fancy, hard-bound books spooks you into thinking that you must fill it only with deep thoughts (and not even great writers can do that on a regular basis!), opt for a legal pad or lined, spiral notebook. Or take it online at ohlife.com.● Be deliberate about writing. Try to journal as regularly as you can. Choose a place and time that will allow you at least 15 to 20 minutes of peaceful, uninterrupted experience (it takes time to get into the activity in a meaningful way).● Make yourself comfortable. Consider creating a ritual that helps you relax and get in the mood to write. Put on some soft music, make yourself a cup of tea, or light a candle or some incense. By doing such things, you honor journaling as an important activity in your life.● Protect your privacy. If you think someone might read what you’ve written, you’ll begin to censor yourself, and that will defeat the whole purpose of journaling. Don’t leave your journal in a place where it might be picked up and read. (Be honest. Could you resist looking at your loved one’s journal if it was left on your coffee table?)And what can you write about? Anything. Remember, there are no rules. You can make a list, write a poem, record a dream or even just doodle! There are lots of good how-to books and journaling websites that can give you writing prompts to stimulate your thoughts. (See the list provided below.) But for now, let’s assume you want to explore ideas about beauty.So consider these prompts:● How do you define a beautiful body? A beautiful mind? A beautiful personality? A beautiful spirit?● Describe a time when you felt beautiful. What can you do to achieve that feeling again?● What would a more attractive you look like? Feel like? Do?● What physical features do you like about yourself? What features would you like to improve? Which list was easier to come up with? Why?You’re now ready to begin journaling. Enjoy the adventure of exploring, discovering and achieving a more beautiful you!Our Favorite Journaling Resources:BOOKSAdams, Kathleen. “Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth”Baldwin, Christina. “One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing”Baldwin, Christina. “Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest”Capacchione, Lucia. “The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself”Capacchione, Lucia. “The Well-Being Journal: Drawing Upon Your Inner Power to Heal Yourself”Chapman, Joyce. “Journaling for Joy: Writing Your Way to Personal Growth and Freedom”Lane, Barry. “Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery”Metzger, Deena. “Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds”Rainer, Tristine. “The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity”Schiwy, Marlene A. “A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal-Writing Journey”WEBSITESThe Creative Journal: The Art of Finding YourselfThe Center for Journal Therapy Creative Writing Now Journaling PromptsJeanette Leardi is an instructor of journaling, memoir-writing, personal mythmaking and storytelling. A longtime freelance writer and editor, her publishing experiences also include staff positions at Newsweek, Life, People, and Condé Nast Traveler magazines, and The Charlotte Observer.